It’s not feasible to ship biomass or forest residue long distances, turn it into fuel, and ship it back to the East Coast for use. So, whatever the source of bioenergy is, it must be home-grown and processed near the area in which it will be used, the Clemson researcher says.

For farmers, there will be some opportunities to grow biomass crops. Which crop will be the primary one used for fuel isn’t certain. Switchgrass has gotten a lot of attention in the Southeast. It is a fast growing crop and great strides have been made in recent years in understanding the physiology of the crop and subsequently in producing high yields using minimal input costs, Frederick says.

USDA estimates the following make-up of the 36 billion gallons of biofuels to offset the amount currently used for vehicles:

• From dedicated energy crops, including perennial grasses, energy cane and biomass sorghum, 13.4 billion gallons.

• From oilseeds, such as soy and canola, .5 billion gallons.

• From woody biomass, such as logging residues, 2.8 billion gallons.

• From corn starch, primarily ethanol from corn, 15 billion gallons.

Speaking at the recent South Carolina Biofuels Summit, South Carolina Farm Service Agency Deputy Director Kenneth McCaskill says these figures offer the opportunity for life-changing development projects in rural areas of the Southeast.

The USDA has estimated the cost of building cellulosic plants capable of producing 49.8 percent, or about 10 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022, at $8 per gallon. If accurate, that would mean the Southeast will be expected to build and have in operation by 2022, an $80 billion industry. Currently, there is one plant in Louisiana, which is expected to come online next year.

“These figures are staggering for an industry that doesn’t exist in a region of the country that is in desperate need of urban revitalization. How to best take advantage of this opportunity is a big question for farmers and landowners in the Southeast,” says McCaskill.